Vinny Croston's had enough of the work, weather and women in England.
Vinny'd been dreading that day since he'd got there. It was his fourth trip. On the last three, departure had been torture. To add to his torment he'd met Jeed. They were cornered up in Bulldog and he had his elbows on the bar. To strangle time he picked at the foil on a bottle of Carlsberg. His farewell night had been heavy and he was a fourteen hour flight away from Bolton and an empty flat.
Jeed, seductive as ever, was leaning back in her chair, right leg crossed over left and wearing his Wanderers top.
"Honey talk to me no talk to bottle," she exhaled a chest full of smoke and leaned towards him " I think you all the time and send for you e mail every day."
Vinny looked up and smiled, she leaned over and kissed his neck, he smiled again, and kissed her on the lips.
Hopefully after the scheming he'd done with Pete Jensen this was going to be the last time he he'd be returning to England. Pete had been on at him for a week and had closed his pitch two days previously with, "I know it's risky, but nothing ventured nothing gained. The greater the risk the higher the reward."
Pete had even made it sound legitimate. Vinny agreed so long as he didn't tell Jeed, shook his hand, scribbled his name and address on a scrap of paper and downed a shot of whiskey to celebrate the Rubicon he'd just agreed to cross.
Outside Soi Yamoto was bustling as normal. The midday Pattaya sun beat down on its host of misfit residents and bleached the signage of the bars, shops and guesthouses.
The usual assortment of farangs, long and short term sat around the bars in various states either recovering from yesterdays' abuse or embarking on another attempt at the drinking grand slam. They were all throwing their unspent baht about and girls in their twenties hung around hoping to catch a spare thousand or so.
"Honey you make me feel like young man again. I miss you at home," he'd been speaking a hybrid of English and Thai for a fortnight and was going to have to adjust to English again. He kicked the sports bag at his feet and gestured with his head towards the street, "We get Taxi airport now honey?"
Jeed started to lift off his football shirt.
"No no, keep. When Bolton play TV you wear and think of me."
It was three sizes too big for her and added to her waifish charm.
Tom popped his head up from behind the Pattaya Mail in his seat in the cooler recesses of the bar, "You off then?" his Cockney lilt added a lighter tone to every occasion. He could make handing out the death sentence sound like a quip between mates. Not that Tom was ever likely to be in a position to hand out the death sentence, not in an official court of law at least.
"Yeah. Off home for me chips and gravy mate," Vinny bounced between Th/English with Jeed and proper Bolton with the English farangs.
"No doubt see you in four or five months then Vin"
"Aye. Probably be Christmas kidder."
He'd been boozing in Bulldog of an afternoon since his first trip two and half years ago. At thirty nine ICF Tom's one of Pattaya's elder statesmen. He knows everyone you want to and quite a few people you don't. Corpulent and shaven headed, Tom's a textbook hooligan. Vinny marked him down as "alright". He'd been one of West Ham's more notorious supporters and was reputedly wanted for murder, which prevented him from returning to England. Whether the rumour was true or not Tom did little to quell it.
Vinny hoisted his bag over his shoulder and waved as he padded out of the bar into the searing heat. Jeed grabbed his hand and led him out onto the concrete plinth that acts as a pavement. She jumped off the ledge onto the red brown dust covered tarmac so she could flag down a cab. One of Pattaya's eighty million predatory taxis stopped without pulling over. Oblivious to the traffic backing up behind him the driver pressed the window button and leaned over to the passenger side.
She started jabbering in Thai to him, he responded with what sounded like "two thousand baht"
Jeed recoiled "Pehn pai !"
She made a downward movement with her right hand and delivered a look of disgust with her pretty Isaan face.
As she turned towards the pavement the driver issued a frantic "OK OK OK."
Jeed turned round and re entered the negotiations punctuated on either side with frowns and alternate nods and shakes of the head. Eventually she turned round and winked at Vinny, thumb aloft "I get for nine hundled baht".
He nodded "OK" and picked his bag off the floor where he'd rested it during the Orients' version of the Maastricht talks.
By the time he'd hopped off the pavement and into the road, the middle aged taxi driver in his blue shirt undone to the waist and jeans riding at slightly above the ankle was by his side and hauled his bag of his shoulder and into the boot.
"We go say goodbye," Vinny nodded with his head towards The Rising Sun.
They dodged motorbikes and flea bitten mongrels on the way over.
All the guys were there, Fatty Jarvo, larcenous old Pete Jensen, Ken the Boss and Underworld, they called him that because he used to be a tunnelling engineer.
Vinny hopped up onto the pavement and stood at the entrance to the open bar front that acts as reception and dining area for the guesthouse he'd stayed in.
"I'm off now lads," he hid his hands in the back of his shorts.
They all pretended not to notice.
Underworld stifled a laugh and buried his head in the Bangkok Post.
Jarvo looked over to Jensen smirking, "You hear summink Pete?"
"Oh it's that Vinny fella," Pete looked at Vin with an feigned air of distance, "or should I say Mr Bradley?"
Vinny felt a tug on the pocket of his shorts and looked down. A girl no older than ten was looking up at him with an angelic brown face offering him pieces of chewing gum in her hands.
He shook his head and looked back at the guys but could still fell her big brown eyes staring up at him.
"Fuck yers you lucky cunts I'm off," he waved and sloped back to the taxi.
He heard some faint mocking "Oh don't go Vinny"'s and a chorus of laughter.
The guys were a sardonic bunch, good to be around, different backgrounds and outlooks but with a common bond in the appreciation of female company and alcohol.
Vinny got in the back seat having avoided colliding with an unbaffled motorbike bearing down on him at six miles an hour. It's always a relief to actually get into a taxi alive anywhere in Thailand. Jeed hopped in after him, pulled the door shut and slid across the vinyl seat to sit next to him.
The driver started the engine, looked in his wing mirror and trundled into the flow of traffic. Jeed frowned " Honey. Why Pete call you Mr Bladley?"
"It joke!" he smiled and gave her an evasive shrug.
Jeed kissed him lightly on the neck. She leant her head on his shoulder and rested her slender olive skinned hand on Vinny's thigh. The taxi edged onto the Beach Road, it turned into Soi Post Office and onto 2nd Road heading out of town. Once through the hustle and bustle of north Pattaya's streets filled with taxis, motorbikes, and baht buses they hit the Trat Highway, the hundred mile stretch of concrete that ends in downtown Bangkok.
Vinny caught the driver's eye in the mirror, "OK for cigalette?"
The driver nodded and wound down the rear window so he could add his ash to the veneer of dust that covers most roads in Thailand. He fumbled in his shirt pocket and dragged out a crumpled soft pack of Marlboro Lights, there's always one with a few left in it after a night out. It took a bit of fucking about to drag two flattened, bent fags out of the corner and he popped one in Jeeds mouth the second into his own.
The driver looked at him expectantly so he passed him the pack over hoping it was empty.
Jeed reached in Vinny's pocket for a light and lit his first then hers. Like a lot of the Thai girls Jeed's got this magical gift of making a cigarette in her mouth appear the size of a Cuban cigar, it's shit hot watching them.
Once half his ash was on the road and the other half the taxi carpet he dispatched the butt out of the window and started taking in the view. The taxi was the same as most of them in Thailand. Meter with turbo switch for guys new to the country, vinyl seats that defied age, driver with jet black swept back hair and tough leathery skin like an old brown cricket ball. There was a picture of the driver taken 15 years ago selotaped to the windscreen so you knew he wasn't a murderer, well not one who couldn't afford the hundred baht to fake his license. Vinny hadn't been in a car in Thailand that didn't have a selection of mini Buddha's, pictures of the king and famous monks stuck on the dashboard. This one was no different. They're there 'cos they've got Buddha's charm and without them you couldn't go the wrong way down one way systems or pass through red lights in rush hour without getting killed.
After examining the inside of the cab, Vinny weighed up what was going on outside. Pattaya was five miles behind and the hotels and bars had thinned out, there was a ninety five mile thoroughfare ahead. Palm trees, abandoned trucks, industrial equipment and the odd bit of a hill were all he could see. The sort of stuff that crops up on that road still amazed him. You'll drive for miles without seeing a sign of life, and then in the middle of nowhere they'll have a shop stood on its own selling bog seats or staircases. Jeed wasn't up for conversation, last night had taken its' toll and other than the odd rub of Vinny's crotch or squeeze of his leg she was motionless. He started daydreaming about football; Bolton had started the season well. They'd just been promoted to the Premiership and Vinny had fantasised about sitting in Bulldog with Jeed in eight months watching them beat Man U in the Cup Final. Then he got this picture of himself in twenty one months time sat in Bulldog renamed The Burnden Park watching Wanderers beat Real Madrid in the Cup Winners Cup, with him owning the gaff and his beautiful wife Jeed tending the bar. Just as David Beckham the new captain of Bolton lifted the trophy he was interrupted, " Iinternatonal or Dometic?"
"What? Err International Terminal 2."
"You cam from Engrand?" the driver smiled in the mirror waiting for a nod.
Vinny shook his head and ignored him.
A lot of the roads over there are made of concrete sections, so when you're travelling the tyres make a "thrub thrub thrub" noise. It sounds like you've got a puncture. With that, the warmth of Jeed pressing against him and a twenty six bottle hangover Vinny soon nodded off.
Six thousand miles away Keith was lying on his couch wearing his leopard skin Gucci briefs and black socks. There was a half empty bottle of Tesco's vodka on the table and a square of paper cut from a magazine that had until ten minutes previously contained cocaine. His telly had a plastic Fiat 127 with an Italian flag stuck in the roof on top of it. On the screen a naked black girl was staring out at him on her hands and knees while the gentleman kneeling behind her had a stern look of concentration on his face, the sort of frown you'd expect to see on Kasparov's face in the middle of a world championship. Keith licked the empty wrap, tossed it in the bin and took a slug from the bottle. He walked over to the window and pulled back the curtain. Outside it was starting to get light and the drizzle gave the cobbles in the back alley a glaze. He let the curtain fall back, shook his head and headed for the bedroom.
When Vinny woke his crotch was feeling warm. He looked down and it was obvious that the head on his shoulders had woken slightly later than the head lower down. Jeed was doing what she'd done every midday after they woke for the ten days since they'd met, and for that matter after afternoon tea when they went for a nap and at three or four in the morning when they got home from Marine Disco. Vinny lay back and smiled as Jeed's lips lapped gently against the part of him that British girls had refused to acknowledge.
He closed his eyes for a moment then jumped up, "Fuck me."
He'd forgotten they were in the back of a cab.
Jeed looked up from the job in hand, "It OK Winny man go from some dlink."
She pushed with her left hand against his stomach and he leaned back into the corner of the seat glimpsing out the window. They'd pulled up at the side of a roadside Seven Eleven.
They're a bit surreal them Thai service stations. Models of Millennial consumerism decked out in sparkling chrome and steel and stocked with gleaming cans of Diet Coke, Haribo Sweets, Sloppy Joe hot dogs and Western Cigarettes set against the semi-primitive second world landscape of intra urban Siam.
Vinny looked back down at Jeed working like the expert she was but with her hand instead of her mouth. Their eyes met and for the first time since they'd got together Vinny could distinguish between the dark brown of her irises and the black of her pupils. Most of the time they'd been awake together had been after sundown making it hard to tell. His groin twitched. His lower back tightened then his prime Lancastrian genetic information spat onto Jeed's cheek. She pulled away. Sitting upright she turned around and wiped the edge of her cheek and lips like she was wiping biscuit crumbs from her mouth at a vicar's tea party. He lay there flustered for a bit then buttoned up his flies. Jeed finished wiping up then kissed him on the lips and turned to her make up mirror.
"Honey you get cigalette for me?"
Vinny stumbled out of the Taxi. The heat hit him. The air conditioning above the glass door made the hair on his forearms stand on end and he tilted his head back to soak up the cool. At the counter the driver was leaning on one elbow with two bottles of Sprite in his hand. The King of the Chromium Empire was in his early twenties. Smartly dressed and preened in Seven eleven uniform and standing upright with arms wide on the counter. He looked at the driver unimpressed but listened to his diatribe. King Chrome glanced up as the door opened and clocked Vinny as he cooled himself. The driver noticed him and raised his hand nodding and smiling. He turned from the counter uttering an ignored goodbye to the assistant and tottered back to the car.
"Marboro Ligh ka loon na" Vinny's fourth visit to the Land of Smiles hadn't been completely wasted. He'd learnt that "ka loon na," or something similar meant "please".
There wasn't even a raised eyebrow during the transaction, which pissed Vinny off enormously considering his defiant act of private indecency moments earlier. He scooted back to the car enduring the heat plus residual air con and threw the fags on Jeed's lap, then joined her and kissed her on the neck like a soft cunt. If Keith had seen him he'd rip the shit for Vinny being a smitten bastard.
The car pulled back onto the highway and Vinny stared at the road ahead. He had one of the crappy moments of realisation he'd been having once or twice a day since he'd got there. Most of the guys holidaying in Thailand have them once or twice a day. They usually last three minutes max. First they'll think "I've got to go back to all that shite in England/ Germany/Holland/ Australia/The States. Then they convince themselves that life back in the real world'll be better. Even though this doting creature provides them with everything they've missed out on back home she is after all being paid to. " I'll be here soon on a permanent basis" is usually the last thought, before the cuddle in hand breaks the depression.
When he glanced up at the driver's mirror Vinny caught him weighing him up but he glanced back at the road to avoid eye contact, then buried his manners and stared at him full on in the mirror.
"Girfliend you go" he nodded expectantly.
"Whatever" Vinny had been using the dismissive about ten times a day either on attentive female entertainment staff who's hips were just that millimetre to small or legs just that inch to short. It came in handy for taxi drivers talking shite and when accompanied with a forward waving hand gesture it'd send street vendors offering decorative rice paper umbrellas scattering.
The cosy little career girl and customer carrier started to approach the edge of Bangkok. It was 3pm and the humidity and traffic fumes that Bangers is famous for (among other things) shrouded the skyline. For an ordinary guy like Vinny it's an impressive place, but a lucky twat who was being paid a western salary to pretend to be engineer and cheat on his Mrs in South East Asia had told him that "Architecturally it's not a patch on Hong Kong or Singapore."
There's more shiny high rises than he'd seen anywhere in the world, although to be fair his world had been limited to the UK and the Med until he'd come to Thailand. The Highway rose up from ground level and they stopped at the pay point for the toll road that allows wealthy foreigners the privilege of passing unhindered above the interlocking mass of taxis, tuktuk's, busses, trucks, motorbikes, private cars and handcarts that cholesterol Bangkok's highway system. The driver passed on forty baht to the attendant and glided on up the ramp. Thai taxis are smooth runners seeing as they all look well over ten years old. Before he knew it the lights and aerials of the airport were more than just distant blobs to Vinny's right as they had been for a while. The departure lounge was imminent.
They veered off to the left and then doubled back under a flyover so that the terminal buildings were on the left hand side. After passing the Domestic Departures they pulled into Terminal 1. The car stopped in the taxi bay and the driver turned and smiled. Vinny couldn't be arsed reminding him that the KLM flight for Amsterdam departed from number 2. He got his wallet out of the back pocket of his safari shorts and passed the driver two five hundred baht notes.
The driver rummaged in his pockets and made a charade of trying to find the hundred baht change. Vinny gestured for him to keep it. With the baht in his shirt pocket the driver was rooted to the seat and left Vinny to haul his bag out alone then stagger sweltering in the Bangkok humidity onto the trolley Jeed had waiting for him. As he trundling the trolley towards the automatic doors Vinny stopped. Jeed's arm was linked loosely in his.
"Honey we have cigarette before go check in?"
Jeed nodded in agreement and they veered off towards the row of plastic seats on the pavement. Vinny sat down first and could see thunderclouds gathering on Jeed's face.
He lit a fag and passed it to her. She rummaged in her handbag and produced the piece of paper he'd written his email address on.
"Honey. Your name Winny Clot ton?"
She held the slip with Vinny_Croston@yahoo.co.uk written on it in his field of view.
"Why Pete call you Mr Bladley?"
"He joking," Vinny stared into space.
"You bullsit me I kill you," she put it back in her bag.
They sat and smoked avoiding each other's gaze both fearful of any upsetting eye contact.
Vinny finished his cigarette and broke the silence "You come to check in with me then go for some drink?"
"OK" she pecked him on the cheek, threw her cigarette to the floor and stubbed it out. At BKK International, or Don Muang to use its proper name, you're miles away from beer bar country and respectable Thais look down on bar girls.
Vinny pushed himself up from the seat, grabbed the trolley with one hand and trailed the other behind for Jeed to grab. She took hold and clopped along behind him through the brown glass door.
They entered the departure hall of Terminal One, all decked out in marble. It sounds majestic, a room the size of two football fields clad in white and brown polished stone but Don Muang Airport has the feel of a building that was grand twenty years ago. These days it could do with a refurb.
Because of the numb arse driver they had to walk to Terminal 2, but it was a good chance to people watch. The place is always packed.
The security guards stood around in groups of three or four with walkie talkies hanging from the waistband of their dark brown uniforms. Boots polished and clothes neatly pressed they looked menacing, but the clothes appear to have been pressed every day since nineteen seventy five. As Vinny and Jeed passed one would always be distracted and give Jeed the once over. Face, feet then up the legs to pause for a carnal moment on her arse then back to the conversation with his mates. Perhaps a collective glare from the whole group would follow as he pointed a six or seven out of ten to his buddies. Young porters scurried around with their shirts hanging out of the back of dark blue trousers stopping occasionally to confer with a mate over the contents of the chit in their hand.
Pairs of fat grey haired middle aged farangs wheeled trolleys around stacked high with expensive luggage and golf bags. They squared off the details of their stories for their partners. Yes it had been a good trip even though it was a bit hot. The buyer had agreed or the vendor had given a good price. They'd played golf on the two free days, eaten in the hotel every night bar one and retired early after a long hard day of negotiations on the days of the meetings (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Oh and they'd probably have to go back in seven weeks to keep the customer sweet or the vendor on his toes.
The odd Western family would pass through, husband looking at couples like Vinny and Jeed through the corner of his eye so as not to alert the Mrs but planning a business trip for the future; kids oblivious to the fact that these guys were with working girls that they'll probably regard as abominations in years to come; wives would use the hundred yard stare and refuse to look the 'perverts' in the eye, even though her husband was planning a week of perversion soon in the name of business. Some of the wives would look in disgust at the affluent westerner walking along with his downtrodden eastern woman then play hell with her husband that night just for being male.
Occasionally a female airport worker would glance fancifully at Vinny, then respectfully at Jeed. She might get dirty looks off respectable Thais but she was earning five times more in the bar than some receptionist at the airport and being spoiled rotten by a generous if slightly portly westerner. That reassured Vinny. If Jeed was only there for the dollars (which Jeed had in fact refused off Vinny) at least other Thai women found him attractive. It gave Jeed a bit of pride as well. Not everyone disapproved of her line of work.
They passed through the corridor into terminal 2 and waited by the lift for the departure hall. A Japanese family with trolleys squeezed into the lift with them, then reversed out next to the escalators. Heading towards the check in desk Jeed slowed a little, Vinny was pissed off by the sadness on her face.
"Honey why not sabai" not happy, "I want remember you smiling not sad".
Jeed moved her head from side to side trying to shake it off. They got to the queue for the luggage check in and joined the line of departees. Vinny knelt down next to his bag and unzipped it so he could dig out a sweater for when he got home. The bag was brimming with smelly undies, shoes, wash kit and that pair of boxing gloves he'd bought in Bangkok on the first night. He'd meant to try and get to the Muay Thai gym but had been too hung over every day. He finally found his target, a thick grey Nike sweatshirt that'd insulate him against the October chill at Schicpol and hopefully in Manchester as well. Vinny tied it round his waist and hoisted the bag onto the conveyor to be scanned for drugs, firearms, ammunition or livestock. It passed under the rubber flaps of the x-ray machine and he walked to the other end to await the outcome. There was a brief second of paranoia while it was bombarded with electrons. What if the taxi driver was part of a Triad cartel who'd planted a kilo of heroin on him? What if Tom had slipped a handgun in while he'd nipped to the bog in Bulldog? What if…? His bag emerged looking amazingly like the one he'd put in the front end a moment before. It stopped at the end of the conveyor as two young guys in blue uniforms held it in a machine to be encapsulated in blue "BKK Airport Security Checked" tape. This was the fourth time he'd left Bangkok and he still hadn't sussed how the machine worked. Vinny picked his bag up and went over to the queue for the check in. Security checks completed he could have safely put a couple of kilos of heroin in the side pocket, or that endangered snake he'd bought off a guy in Happy A Go Go.
The queue at the desk wasn't moving. Causing chaos were a group of four Nigerian guys in flowery gowns. They had suitcases big enough for a double bass each. One of them was open and they were frantically emptying four hundred or so brand new T Shirts still in cellophane into a bag. Their mate was helping them he'd obviously take them back to his apartment for the next time someone was leaving the country. It was obvious that they knew their allowance but chanced it anyway.
Everyone waited patiently. At the check in desk a girl appeared in KLM blazer and skirt.
"Pleese queue a thit desk pleese" she tried to shout but Thai ladies vocal chords aren't really made for shouting.
No one needed telling and people were already shuffling over before she issued her order. Vinny was at the desk in no time and lifted his bag onto the conveyer. He plonked his folder of travel documents on the desk and rummaged through all the papers and shite, the outbound ticket, old boarding cards, travel cheque stubs and insurance documents until he found the return ticket and passport and pushed them across the counter to the girl. She smiled took them in her hand and opened them up in front of her screen. Vinny looked at the badge on her lapel. "Royal KLM Airlines, Rungnapa Thomadee Check in Assistant"
"Pleese sir you no reconfirm fly."
On all his trips to Thailand he'd avoided reconfirming the flight from Bangers in the hope that it would be over booked.
"I forget" he smiled helplessly.
She tapped in a few figures on her keyboard.
"OK. Depar flom gay forty two. You must be a gay fipty minit beefor fly depar"
She looked up and passed back his papers, "Enjoy your fly"
"Khop khun krup" he'd learned how to say thank you on his first trip.
Faced with the reality of departure Vinny felt like a kid taking his dog to be put down and his bottom lip crept up over his upper one. He was left with two hours to kill before saying good bye to Jeed.
Walking back to where he'd left her by the x-ray machine, he couldn't see her among the faces at first glance then caught sight of her, she looked sad but as their eyes met she brightened up.
When he got nearer her she bounced towards him and clasped his arm with both hands and smiled. She didn't care that it was unseemly to show affection in public away from the bar. Vinny felt his groin tighten and cursed the lack of short time rooms near the airport.
"We go for some drink and food then I go in two hours"
There was no answer just a pull towards the escalator leading towards Bill Bentley pub on the upper floor.
They got on the escalator and Vinny looked up the steps. Jeed was a step behind. She was still nervous about escalators. She'd lived in Pattaya and worked the bar for two years but they don't have escalators upcountry in the village near Ubon where she's from. Getting onto the moving staircase was still a trauma for her and she hesitated the way five year old kids do in the UK on their first trip to a shopping centre. Half way up with his right hand clasped in both of hers she turned round and surveyed the international mass of people twenty feet below. Three years ago on her twenty first birthday she'd never set foot outside her village and had only had one Thai boyfriend who'd helped her family on the farm. She'd eaten in wooden huts and had a new item of clothing every twelve months. Now she was being treated to drinks by a foreigner and passing through an International Airport. Jeed often had moments like farangs do who pity themselves for having to return to the west except hers were more of amazement of how different her life had become since working in the bar.
They walked into Bill Bentley Pub, with Burger King and KFC concessions through the opposite door. Vinny hovered over the thought of Burger King for a moment, contemplating getting his stomach used to Western stodge again but thought better of it.
Bill Bentley's is just like a boozer back home it's carpeted, there's dark wooden chairs and tables adorned with glossy menus, beer mats and dark green ashtrays with a yellow livery. Jeed clambered onto the stool next to a high table. Vinny untied the sweatshirt from his waist and draped it over the adjacent chair. With his hands on his hips he gazed around for a moment. There were framed photos hanging on the walls depicting western sportsmen or front pages from the New York Times chronicling disastrous days on the stock market or assassinated dignitaries.
"This same same pub in England" said Vinny. For all his enchantment with Siam there was still a little bit of a reluctant westerner in him.
The three hundred square yards or so occupied by KFC, Burger King and Bill Bentleys serve as a bit of a of a decompression chamber for those making the cultural jump from East to West. Around them there were couples in similar situations or groups of lads sat around ploughing through their last fistful of baht reminiscing about the night one had been caught out by a lady boy in Pat Pong and leafing through the photos they'd picked up on the way. An older mixed couple sat at the table close by. The bloke farang, grey haired and overweight stared into his beer the way Vinny had on Soi Yamoto while the lady Thai and obviously of a similar age but looking much finer than a western lady of her years smiled when she saw Vinny and Jeed. Her face gave that look of "that was me and him fifteen years ago when the airport and fatso over here still looked dashing" she looked back at her other half. Her face straightened and she went back to her book.
Vinny got his wallet from his back pocket then eyed the menu and weighed up how much cash he had.
"Honey mai satang" no money, "I go cash check you order drink,"
He gestured towards the Bureau de Change.
On his return he was greeted by two bottles of Carlsberg, one in Jeed's hand and the other waiting to jump down his throat, and he stuffed the hundred pounds worth of baht in his wallet. Jeed looked down at her beer. It was like the eye contact would upset her too much. She had a tissue in her beer free hand. During the quick dash to the money vendor Vinny had decided once and for all that he was going to amass an enormous amount of cash in an amazingly short period of time back home and return to sweep Jeed off her feet. She looked up when he touched her arm. There was a small tear making its way out of the corner of her eye. He picked up a tissue and wiped it from her cheek.
"Winny I cry because I'm lub you too much," she looked down again and he kissed her forehead. Jeed looked away, after a quick swig of beer she turned back and seemed to have composed herself. She touched his leg and sniffed then a smile broke through. A quick rub of his leg followed to reassure him she was OK.
"Honey tell me what you do when home England"
"OK. When I get home it 10 pm. I get taxi to my house then go to pub for drink with friend"
"What friend name ?"
"I don't know it depends who's out." she looked at him confused. He'd started speaking English and quickly. The decompression chamber had brought that on.
"Him name Bill Bentley"
Jeed laughed,"You joke. What you do when go to working?"
That depressed him "You know I working sell computer"
Smiling now the conversation was flowing Jeed followed on with the playful interrogation, "What people like in working? Many lady?" she had him on the run.
"I don't know I start new job on Monday" a whole fucking Sunday to sort his head out and get rid of the jetlag.
"You big liar you have many lady at working and in pub."
She knew it wasn't true. What would he be doing holidaying in Thailand on his own if he was Bolton's answer to Tom Jones?
"Honey I start new job selling big computer and making many money so can come back Thailand see you." He touched the top of her two clasped hands and waited for her to catch his gaze again.
"Winny you know I'm lub you too much." Jeed's emotions started to slide again.
"Honey" he lightened his tone to cheer her up, "What you do when I back in England?"
"I get bus Pattaya and go back work bar Soi eight where meet you," she sighed.
"Yes Tommy Bar."
"You always work Tommy Bar?"
Some of this was old ground but it filled the time and stopped the tears.
"No before when come to Pattaya I work go go bar Soi 2 name Classloom" he'd stalled the tears but she wasn't getting any happier.
"Why you move to Tommy Bar?"
"Dancing all time in go go make tired and feet hurting. Then meet friend from Ubon. She tell me she work Tommy Bar and make money same go go but no hurting or make tired so I'm go to work with her."
A friend had cropped up in the conversation. It lifted her spirits.
"What friend name?" the tears were at bay. He was back on safe ground.
"Her name Na she nice lady. Always joking very sooway." Sooway was one of the first words farangs learnt in Thailand "beautiful" essential for sweet talking the girls.
"Have I met Na?"
Surprisingly enough he remembered more than one pretty one from his nights on the town with Jeed but the name didn't ring a bell.
"No no. She go back Ubon six months. Mama sick she help with farm and childlen."
Jeed clasped the cigarettes on the table. Flustered and embarrassed at having shown a tear she reached into the packet and popped a fag in his mouth, she kissed his cheek and lit him up before repeating the process for herself.
Playing the doting girlfriend seemed to cheer her up as she mopped his brow. She was back in the driving seat. "Winny when you go home I want you take care because England colt. You get sick have flu. I not want you working too hard because that make sick also."
Thai girls can really turn on the compassion when they want "No no. When I go home I stop smoking. Then I not have flu. Also I start to go to boxing again so I stop being fat."
This was met with a look of disapproval; he'd dabbled in Thai boxing after his first visit he'd gone along to the local gym in the hope of meeting some Thai birds, there were none. It got him out of the flat at night but eventually it got in the way of his drinking. Obviously he'd been no great shakes 'cos of his lifestyle. He'd not even competed but trained for a while just to keep fit.
"I not want you boxing. Lady have man who boxing alway have bad life." Jeed was putting her foot down. The Thais are proud of their national sport but in some quarters it's regarded as a peasants game.
"Why lady have bad life from boxing man?" it made him a bit indignant.
"Because she worry too much. Also fix him face when broken."
She pressed hard on his leg forcing the point home.
"Honey I not do boxing for fight I just do for keep fit. It stop me from be fat."
"If you not have fat I not recognise you." She lightened the pressure on his leg and smiled. She was willing to call it a draw but not without making her point. Jeed gently stroked his stomach then went back to her nearly empty bottle.
Vinny noticed a matter of urgency. Thais are concerned about losing face in social matters and he was keen to ingratiate himself with their customs. He was mindful as well of the last remaining crime to carry the death penalty in Bolton. Being seen in a bar with an empty bottle.
The waiter answered his beckon and was soon at the table.
"Honey after this beer I go," he got a nod as a bit of a sullen reply.
The beers arrived and were placed on fresh beer mats . The waiter cleared the empties and was turning to go.
"No no.. Check bin!" Vinny shouted at him as he turned away.
He turned back and totted up the total for the table "Seven hundred and twenty baht please"
Vinny and Jeed looked at each other in shock.
"Pehn Pai" too expensive Jeed stabbed at the waiter.
"Let me look," he grabbed the bar tabs and compared them against the price on the menu.
"Hundred and eighty fucking baht a bottle."
It was triple the Pattaya price for the same round. He shook his head again in disgust and dumped the money on the tray without a tip. The waiter scurried off. He hated charging those prices as much as the customers hated paying them.
The fucking beer was warm as well and as he took his first gulp Vinny used his free hand to grab Jeed by the wrist. Another gulp and the bottle was half empty. Vinny looked in his wallet. He needed five hundred baht departure tax, and a thousand or so for cigs in the duty free.
"I'll give up after I've smoked my allowance" he always lied to himself about smoking, every pack was his last one. He pulled the remaining currency from his wallet and pressed it into Jeed's hand. There was well over three thousand baht. It was about a week's wages in the bar and probably six months wages in the rice fields, but nothing like what he should have paid if he'd bar fined her every night and paid her fee on top. That's what it was with Jeed, she didn't take his money like bar girls normally do. She was with him 'cos she liked him. Obviously he bought her food and booze and that and gave her a couple of grand to send to her mum. But to him it was a proper relationship.
"Come on we go" he swung away from the seat. In the act of ordering another beer he'd saved himself from death by verbal abuse in a Bolton bar room court but in leaving he'd still committed a less sinister but no less forgiven crime. Not finishing his drink. Jeed followed trailing behind him. She wanted to slow him down and spend more time with him, but he hated goodbyes. There were still forty five minutes before the pre determined time to be at the gate. He wanted the emotional safety of the transit through Passport Control and an amble round the duty free. The sooner the farewell was over the better. He could try and close off the compartment in his heart that Jeed occupied, leaving it to be opened when he checked his email in the mornings, and when he reminisced over the photos in the evenings or when he was in the pub listening to Keith slating his latest bird.
They stood on the escalator and with their arms round each other. They hopped off the escalator and headed round to passport control. A yard away from the vending machine where passengers pay their departure tax the pair stopped. There was a group of English guys in their mid twenties stood around trying to club together the five hundred baht each they needed to leave the country.
"Jeed I send you pictures as soon as I get them" he kissed her on the forehead. She looked up and kissed him on the lips. The kiss lingered until he pulled away but he had to lean back and kiss her lips one more time. The tears were welling up now and about to break onto both cheeks. Fuck it he hugged her and pulled her head to his chest. She looked up with tears still halfway down her face. He took the tissue from her hand and wiped her cheeks dry. It was the second time he'd done that in an hour and he was getting used to being the Casanova.
"Not cry honey. It make me sad."
Jeed pushed him toward the ticket machine. She blew her nose and shook her head.
The five hundred baht note slid into the slot and he got the ticket that would let him exit. He turned and saw Jeed with a tissue over her nose pointing at the hole in the partition with "Passport Control" printed above it. Once he was through the gap he was in the machine, the machine that'd stamp his passport as having exited, rush him past some tax free goods and despatch him onto the plane. It would fly him over the Bay of Bengal and off towards the West to boredom discontent, his hopefully lucrative job and his beloved Bolton Wanderers.
Jeed watched and waved, he waved back and tried to smile but now it was his turn. All he could feel was his nose blocking up, he tried to smile but his mouth puckered up with the corners pointing down.
Once he'd forced himself through the porthole he was sanitised again the orderly queue of Thai Nationals next to that of the non Thai Nationals were routinely having their exit card examined and their passport stamped. He reached the desk. Farewell over he was the single guy again. Free and on his way home, safe from heartbreak and the guilt of showing emotion. The official took his passport and looked it over.
"Boarding card please," he didn't look up but stretched out his hand. Vinny placed his passport in the uniforms hand, and was sure it was the same guy who'd stamped his papers every time he'd left.
Everything seemed to be in order and he stamped in the exit date, squiggled on the page and pulled out the tourist visa that had been stapled in for two weeks.
Vinny trundled through into the departure terminal separated from the runway and walkways to the plane by a huge sheet of smoked glass. The shops and stalls marked "King Power Duty Free Shopping" were much the same as anywhere else in the world, stacked high with cigarettes, liquor, perfumes, sportswear and a selection of local and global best sellers.
He made a beeline for the fags four hundred and eighty baht for two hundred there's about sixty baht to the pound so it worked out at about eighty pence a packet. He pulled down two cartons and went to the till. The girl struggling with her ogre of a machine looked up from the piece of card she was keying in digits from and smiled, "One secont pleese."
She put the card to one side and motioned to the stacks of cigarettes on the shelf "Speshar offer sir. Buy thlee carton get one flee"
"Marvellous!" he could just get the outline of her breasts under her semi translucent "King Power" blouse. Vinny smiled, hopped over to the shelf and grasped at two more cartons. With the extras he was 600 hundred over his limit and he plonked them in the basket by the till. The till girl smiled "One Thousarn nine hunlet twenti baht pleese sir."
Vinny couldn't help having licentious thoughts as he fumbled in his pocket for the cash.
"Bollocks," there was only one thousand baht note and a couple of loose tens in his wallet.
He was going to have to use his Visa card but he wasn't sure if there was any credit left on it. He plucked it out and placed it on the desk. While she swiped his card a young guy packed the three cartons plus "extla flee" in a "King Power Duty Free Shopping" carrier. None of your cheap shite mind, these bags were heavy duty plastic, soft yet durable. They're the sort of carriers you can keep for taking folders into the office when you want to look flash in front of the secretaries. They say "I'm quality. I've seen the world"
There was an anxious moment as the card was validated, he stood there hoping he had enough credit. Had he paid his last bill? Chugga Chugga Chugga chugg. The till spat out a slip for him to sign and he heaved a sigh of relief. While he scrawled his name on the line he tried to catch the outline beneath the blouse again.
"Sank you sir" she handed his card back and placed the receipt in the bag lifting it handles first out of the basket.
With enough Melvyn Braggs to last him five weeks he headed into the three hundred yard mall that leads to gate forty two. There were still forty minutes to kill before boarding time so he ambled slowly in and out of the gift and souvenir shops. He eyed up glass paper weights with pictures of the Grand Palace etched into them, wallets full of postcards depicting Thailand in the Past, carved wooden Buddha's, miniature replicas of the Royal Barges and other bits of tat that tourists pay through the nose for. He'd already bought a cast brass image of some Thai god or other for his old dear so gifts were covered but it passed the time.
Generally speaking he avoided books. A lot of his time at work was spent reading technical specs for new computers or bid documents for customers so reading was low on his list of pastimes but out of boredom he wandered into a book store. Nothing caught his eye there was the usual section of war and crime fiction, the shelves under the heading "Regional" contained hard backs aimed at the tourist "Thailand Land of Smiles" with a picture of a hill tribe girl on the front concealing two hundred dramatic landscapes from the North, canal shots from Bangers and pictures of fishermen in the South hauling in their catch at sunset. "Cooking" he gave that one a miss. The "Language" section caught his eye.
On this trip he'd started to notice the advantage farangs who had a bit of the lingo had over linguistic mutes like himself when it came to bargaining and asking directions so he sauntered over. There was the stand of "Berlois" dictionaries. Thai/English, Thai/German, Thai/French, they didn't appeal so he glanced across the shelf and noticed a heading "Audio" and saw some boxed cassettes. One had a picture of a pretty young girl on the front, head tilted back and smiling playfully. "Hello Thailand" the lettering below the picture claimed that the buyer would "Learn three hundred useful phrases without book or college course". A round white sticker covering the bottom right hand corner of the smiling girl proclaimed in pink lettering "Special price 500 baht plus free booklet". The word "free" was in bold and double the point size of the rest of the wording.
Bargain. He picked it up and weighed it in his hand not too heavy not too light. It felt good. There was a pamphlet behind the box encased in the cellophane so he flipped it over. The back of the pamphlet read, "This helpful 90 minute cassette with booklet is designed to help the English speaking traveller or business man with three hundred useful phrases such as Can you take me to the airport please?
Where is the nearest post office?
Excuse me where can I get a massage ?…."
No further info required, he walked towards the counter, box in left hand and he reached into his back pocket with his right. There was no one at the till. Walking off without paying was considered but he corrected himself a moment later. A longer stay would have been nice but twelve hours in an interrogation cell in the airport explaining why he'd half inched a tape worth less than a tenner wasn't worth it. He rested both hands on the counter with his wallet clasped in his right. The squeak of rubber soled shoes on the tiled floor signalled the approach of an assistant. She wasn't as pretty as the cigarette girl but her smile was more cheerful. Once safely behind the till she tilted her head slightly to the right and smiled again running the bar code under the scanner.
"Fipe hunlet baht pleese sir," she packed the box away in a smaller but no less impressive quality carrier than the one the cigarettes were in. He'd forgotten the thousand or so in his wallet and was expecting to use his card but saw the fringe of the brown note popping out of his wallet. It was quickly transferred into the girl's hand and into the till. She counted out five red hundreds and plucked the receipt from the printer adding them to the box in the bag. The bag fitted neatly into the side pocket of his shorts. He grasped his bag of eight hundred fags and was off down the corridor towards gate forty two.
There was a "smokers cabin" fifty yards ahead. It was a brown glass object that looked like an indoor greenhouse with plastic seats and ashtrays full of sand at hand level. When he pushed the swing door open the nicotine hit him full in the face. Those places always stiffened his resolve to quit. Well not immediately, maybe soon. He sat himself down distant enough from the other occupants so as not to encroach on their personal space but not too far from the ashtray, then tapped in his pockets for his fags. Left? No. Right? No. Left side pocket? No. Right side? Jeed must have 'em. Check the shirt pocket. Fuck it. Open a carton. It was handy, delving with both hands into the carrier between his knees meant avoiding eye contact with the others in Marlboro heaven who were looking but not looking at each other. Bingo! Twenty deck obtained, he sat upright and unwrapped the pack. It's fucking awkward picking out that first cig from a soft pack without fucking up the tip. The pocket routine started again for the lighter but before he was half way through a large western lady sat opposite in a big yellow dress smiled and offered hers. He nodded thanks, smiled, gave it a quick flick of the thumb and passed it back. The first lung full provided relief from the smoke free zone he'd endured for twenty minutes. The second was nauseating and the third started to constrict his throat. It made his stomach and chest churn. He didn't want to launch into a full coughing attack especially in front of strangers so he held the smoke in his mouth and breathed in through his nose. No use. A cough was on its way, his mouth gaped the smoke bellowed out and the cough "BLWEHH" followed . It sounded like a child puking. Vinny's head lowered to chest level. Deep breath in and back upright. He shook his head quickly and was back to normal. The Thai guy sat opposite looked back at the floor avoiding his gaze and the sweet faced western woman smiled in empathy.
The young European to his right hadn't even looked up from his book to take in Vinny's party piece. He took a short drag but didn't inhale and let the smoke seep out slowly, same again then he put it out. The last two drags were to show how manly he was. Never let a coughing fit stop you. He dipped the remaining third of his tax free "Marboro Ligh" out strategically to avoid ruining the Bangkok Airways logo in the sand. He collected himself, smiled at the lady in the canary outfit and walked out.
A quick time check fixed him at twenty minutes till final boarding, so he popped into another "cancer cabin" en route for another fix before his twelve hour nicotine depravation. This tab was uneventful. No need for the starting game of "hide and cig" all he had to do was grab the lighter off the arm rest next to him and chuff away contentedly.
Ten yards from the boarding gate there was a final security check. Everyone's hand luggage and contents of their pockets went through the machine while folk had to walk through the metal detector. Vinny was pretty much certain he wasn't smuggling a surface to air missile in his body cavities so walked through the magnetic archway with a swagger. An airline pilot and cabin crew crowded past him politely as a girl in airport uniform stopped him, the buzzer hadn't gone off but they still check everyone with a hand held scanner. She ran the device up and down the length of his body and crouched to scan his lower legs. It brought a cheeky smile to his face as he remembered one of the girls in Bangkok called Noi or was it Lek who'd crouched towards the lower half of his body, only she hadn't been holding a scanner in her hand. Check done she stood upright and smiled.
"Thank you sir plees ploceed to gay with boardin car leady," and she motioned with her outstretched hand down the corridor.
By the gate he found a chair and plonked himself on it. There were couples and families milling about. The tannoy had been calling out last calls for flights and urgent last calls for individuals but no mention of KLM flight 4122 to Amsterdam. His mind was on the tannoy. 7355 to Dubai nope, 6613 to Hanoi nope. Not Mr Sparding for Frankfurt again must still be in Bill Bentleys.
"Finar call for all passanger on fly 4122 to Amsterdaa plees ploceed too gay forty two. The fly is now depar."
It might have been in her book, but there was no one at the desk and there was definitely no one onboard.
A group of stewardesses carrying radios nearly as big as their torsos appeared at the desk with clipboards and heavy make up. A keen bunch of business travellers always pounced on the desk before the staff were ready and today was no exception. The first guy to the desk was a greying fellow with awkward questions about what colour his seat was and if his car would be waiting for him when he finally stopped after two transfers. In fact he'd put his documents on the desk before anyone was in the chair. The youngest of the three girls took her jacket off and mounted the chair. Old grey hair was pecking at her before the computer was switched on.
"Plees show boardin car ther" she pointed to her left without looking up from the screen. Mr Eager had to trace his steps back to the two girls the queue was forming next to and show his card the same as everyone else which made him frown. The queue started to move and the first few passengers headed down the ramp. Vinny was among them.
They entered a larger hall with a roped walkway to a door at runway level. There was a small strip of tarmac between them and the runway bus. Out of the air conditioned sanctuary of the building the late afternoon heat and humidity tickled him gently under the chin. It sort of served as a depressing reminder that he was leaving and asked "When you coming back Vinny?" Inside the bus he held onto the handrail as they rocked across to the plane. Once he'd crossed the tarmac and trudged up the stairs to the door of the plane he was virtually back in the west. Western hostesses greeted him at the door inspected his card and motioned him towards his seat, 38 F his nominated arse sized home for the night. The sweatshirt he'd been wearing round his waist got plonked on the seat and he stuffed his bumper bag of fags into the holder above. He nodded at the two Arab looking guys occupying the seats by the window who'd probably been soaking up the Siamese culture the way he had. He slipped his sweatshirt on and started to look through the magazines in the pouch in front of him. It was the usual shite, duty free this and that, special fortnight breaks in Montreal. Vinny rummaged in his pocket and found the little packet containing two pills. Before leaving Pattaya he'd popped into the chemist and been told by the pharmacist
"Thees pir no ploblem at Airport take one you sleep for fife hour" and at hundred baht each it was better than twiddling your thumbs for an eternity.
A stunning blonde haired stewardess passed his seat. It'd been two weeks since he'd noticed a western woman. She was superbly well kept and healthy, nice tan and perfectly made up. Two and a half years ago she would've given him wood but the thought didn't cross his mind. It's amazing how your tastes can change.
"Scuse me love can I have a glass of water?" she didn't acknowledge him but two minutes later she returned.
He gulped down one of the pills and slipped the other one back in his pocket.
All the passengers seemed to be on board. The doors closed and the plane started to taxi. The captain ran through the pleasantries on the tannoy and the elegant Dutch ladies did their lifejacket workout at the end of their aisles. Vinny watched keenly as their breasts heaved and sighed through the lifebelt dance. They weren't brown and available at forty nine pence a pair but he still appreciated them.
The plane seemed to turn and stopped. He plucked his contact lenses out of his eyes and flicked them on the floor. The engines fired up and the plane began to move slowly at first but gaining pace. The bumps of the runway started to feel like they were further away. Vinny felt woozy. The nose of the plane lifted.